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The Cheap Ensemble: The Cheap Ensemble

Mark Sullivan By

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Atlanta-based trio The Cheap Ensemble plays chamber jazz inspired by the Paul Motian Trio, and takes the inspiration for its name from Ronnie Scott's quote "I play very cheaply, but I don't play free." Drummer Dana Fitzsimons (who studied both music and law, and has continued to perform as much as possible while also practicing law) first encountered saxophonist Chris Otts at a local jam session; inquiries about possible guitarists all led to Patrick Arthur.

"Poor Butterfly" is played as a languorous ballad: after a rubato opening with guitar and tenor saxophone, the drums enter for the song proper, and the solos continue with the same light touch. Otts' "Volkslied" is the first original. All of the players improvise around the theme, with the drums commenting as much as keeping time, an approach that definitely justifies the Paul Motian comparison. The piece builds to an urgent climax, demonstrating that the music is not all pastel shades.

Chick Corea's "Matrix" gets a deconstructive treatment, the fast bebop-flavored theme interspersed with rubato episodes. It was originally recorded on the trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1968—reissued by Blue Note), but it's an approach not unlike what Corea's group Circle from around the same period might have taken. Arthur contributes the reflective "Front," its rhythmic theme providing an interesting push and pull for the band to work against.

The album closes with a contemporary cover, Bruce Hornsby's "Fortunate Son." It is included to celebrate Hornsby's hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, where Fitzsimons also lived for 16 years, where he studied law and started drumming, and where his two children were born. It includes an extended coda, its gentle looped repetition providing a hypnotic conclusion to the program.

Track Listing: 1. Ithaca; 2. Poor Butterfly; 3. Volkslied; 4. Pure Imagination; 5. Matrix; 6. Reflection; 7. Front; 8. Fortunate Son

Personnel: Patrick Arthur: guitar; Dana Fitzsimons: drums; Chris Otts: tenor saxophone

Title: The Cheap Ensemble | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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